Reform the criminal justice system

The reform package in the criminal justice system approved by the Federal Cabinet bodes well, and it should see the light of day. Notwithstanding the reservations expressed by the judicial fraternity, in particular due to insufficient consultation with the stakeholders, this can always be settled amicably. But what is essential are reforms in the legal and judicial fields, and they cannot be postponed for the sake of appeasement. Many lawyers and bar advisers were also not in line with the appointment of Pakistan’s first female judge. But it’s done now, because the law has run its course. Likewise, the government should muster its courage and press ahead with the implementation of an essential part of its manifesto, while ensuring that the legal format changes for the good of the public interest. Our cumbersome legal process and a plethora of loopholes have made it a laughing stock, as justice is sometimes not served even in a lifetime. This certainly needs to be addressed through bold and consistent legislation, as well as strong executive implementation.

A quick look at the proposed reforms underlines that they are a step in the right direction to solve public problems. The Ministry of Justice amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), Qanoon-i-Shahadat (Evidence Act), Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and other relevant laws were highly anticipated as most of them were not only complicated-loaded but had also become irrelevant over time. Laws are meant to be organic, this is the essence of their implementation, and must respond to the fundamental principles of freedom, emancipation and compassion in a society. This is where our legal saying is in awe, after failing to address populism under the guns of justice.

The proposed timeline to see the completion of criminal trials within nine months is appreciated. Similarly, the possibility of plea bargaining to avoid unwanted litigation, whether by the prosecution or the defence, and of granting legal status to the use of technology and video-link testimony cannot be discounted. . This will help reduce the backlog and process new cases quickly. The fact that convicted crimes related to murder and terrorism do not enjoy such leniency is a legal right.

Other salient features that call for heavy fines for frivolous complaints; ensure strict prosecutions in cases involving women and children, making the abuse of women and the usurpation of their legal rights a zero tolerance crime; and the upgrading of the profile of the police stations are essential. Similarly, the audio-video recording of testimonies and their verbatim documentation before the competent authority in real time is essential in a system where evidence is falsified, even tampered with by the prosecution itself. Last but not least, the suspension of identity cards and bank accounts of unresponsive defendants and fugitives is the need of the hour given the defiance in vogue everywhere. Our criminal justice system is rotten and all reforms, however imperfect, are welcome.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st2022.

Like Reviews & editorial on Facebookto follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.